Woodland wonders

Nature surrounds us. There it is, making the most of whatever soil and space it can eke out of human encroachment. Birds, plants, trees, wildlife, insects find a way. For instance, when the ditches alongside roadways fill with water, it’s common to see egret spotting insects and snails among the elegant stalks of arrowhead flowers and grasses.

Florida has managed to preserve some areas from development, though. Brooker Creek Preserve, spanning Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties, is just such a treasured place, where arched branches of live oaks form a vast cathedral through which sunlight casts its sacred light over swamp, hammock, and flatwoods. I come to Brooker Creek Preserve to center and take notice. Every visit exposes a new discovery where even the most commonplace “weeds” reveal themselves as precious. 

It was during a guided walk with one of the Brooker Creek Preserve staff, Barb Hoffman, that I was particularly struck by how the silver-grey tillandsia glowed bright red when illuminated by sunlight. These spiky, curly plants cling to trees, rooted not in soil but air. And the trees are bedecked by blooms of red Christmas lichen (among other varieties).

In my ignorance, I thought these plants to be parasitic, but my guide explained that this is a myth. In fact, lichen are beneficial to fungi, serving them nutrients and a habitat. Lichen are sensitive to air pollutants and are used by climate scientists as a key indicator of air quality. These delicate epiphytes are so lucky to be able to hug trees and commune with the arboreal commonwealth. 

I am currently up to my inky fingers in celebration of these woodland gems. Three of my prints are on display and available for purchase at Brooker Creek Preserve from May 15 – August 13, 2023. Inquiries: info@friendsofbrookercreek.org

Left: “Rooted on air,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Above: “Airy conceptions,” Relief, drypoint, monoprint, 2023; Akua intaglio on Rives BFK; 18″x18″

Bay Area Art Show 16

My monoprint, “Rustling whisper” was honored with an honorable mention in the 16th annual Bay Area Art Show, presented by Tampa Regional Artists. The quality of submissions was so good, I am truly humbled by this recognition. The show is juried by Amanda Cooper, Chief Curator for the Morean Art Center in St. Petersburg, FL.

This work is part of my “Arbor” series of prints, and was completed after I took an excellent online course with Sally Hirst called “Approaches to Abstraction.” The image evokes sun streams that sparkle through the canopy of live oak trees.

Rustling whisper is a 12″x12″ print made with Akua inks on Rives BFK paper and mounted on wood panel. Available for purchase through May 4 2023 at Tampa Regional Artists, located at 705 West Swann Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33606.

Process talk: Textured relief

Thinking back to art classes in middle school, you may have carved a linoleum block with a little, U-shaped knife. You were creating a relief plate, but you may not have called it that. This is one of the most common forms of printmaking, and linoleum and wood are likely the most widely used materials.

I carve my relief plates in a thin PVC foamcore board used for signage, called “Sintra”. This substance is easily carved and cut with an exacto knife, and I find it very versatile.

Typically, an image is carved into the plate using sharp implements (my fingers always suffer after a carving session), and ink is then rolled over the plate, placed face down on paper and passed through an etching press. That creates a crisp, graphic image. Additional layers can be printed over this image.

I use a process I call “textured relief” to create multi-layered prints. I ink one plate, then press a different plate face-to-face onto the first plate, rub the back to create some suction, and peel the two apart. This makes mottled gaps in the inked plane, creating lighter and darker areas which translate as light through the translucent palmetto fronds when the plate is printed to paper. 

You can see the printed results on the palmetto leaves at the bottom and top of the print at right. By pressing plate against plate, the ink roll is somewhat corrupted, producing a soft, textural line. I think it creates a result that looks more organic and irregular than direct ink-to-paper printing.

Below, you can see the difference between the two methods — on the left, I’ve made a straight, ink-to-plate relief print, and on the right you can see what happens to the ink when another plate is pressed onto an inked plate before printing to paper. The effect adds a bit of value and dimension.